Note from the DivSeek Chair: The Steering Committee gets going

Dear DivSeek partners and colleagues interested in DivSeek,

On May 28th, the newly elected DivSeek Steering Committee (SC) gathered at the FAO premises in Rome. Members of the Joint Facilitation Unit (JFU) and additional staff of the International Treaty also participated in the first SC meeting.

As an initial step, the SC reviewed a draft study which takes stock of independently funded projects in areas of relevance for DivSeek. This ‘project landscape’ study identified around 50 (!) projects, including projects characterizing genebank accessions, web-based portals to access crop-diversity data, and projects developing software or data standards for sharing information about crop diversity.

The SC also began discussing components of a multi-year strategy and an initial work plan for DivSeek. This discussion was facilitated by a document containing a 'menu' of ideas and potential elements for such a strategy.  

Steering Committee and Joint Facilitation Unit members at the 28-May meeting in Rome. Front row (from left to right): Rajeev Varshney, Ruth Bastow, Elizabeth Arnaud, Susan McCouch, Daniele Manzella, Peter Bretting. Back row (from left to right): David Marshall, Peter Wenzl, Andreas Graner.

Steering Committee and Joint Facilitation Unit members at the 28-May meeting in Rome. Front row (from left to right): Rajeev Varshney, Ruth Bastow, Elizabeth Arnaud, Susan McCouch, Daniele Manzella, Peter Bretting. Back row (from left to right): David Marshall, Peter Wenzl, Andreas Graner.

The current task of the SC is to identify a set of objectives and activities for the DivSeek initiative and a mechanism for funding and administering those activities. A major goal underlying DivSeek’s strategic plan would be to augment the potential for many independent, stand-alone efforts to work together under a common umbrella to apply state-of-the-art genomic, phenomic, molecular and bioinformatics tools and strategies to characterize crop diversity and to integrate and share data and information. A second goal would be to enhance the utilization of crop diversity in plant breeding programs that seek to enhance local and global food and nutritional security. 

Governance-related topics that are critical to success of the DivSeek initiative were also discussed, including private-sector engagement, recruitment of new members to expand DivSeek’s constituency, and examination of the roles and responsibilities of the JFU, the SC and the Partners Assembly (PA) as the initiative evolves.

Among the next steps -- 

  • The JFU was encouraged to expand and refine the ‘project landscape’ study, and to make results available online through the DivSeek website and as a peer-reviewed publication. Please see attached list of currently funded projects relevant to the DivSeek initiative and let us know of any others that you would like to see included in the survey (info@divseek.org).
  • During the coming months, the SC, with support from the JFU, will elaborate a proposal for a multi-year DivSeek strategy. We expect to share this proposal and an initial work plan with DivSeek Partners at the next Assembly, in January 2016. The strategy will include ideas for working groups and workshops on key topics of broad interest.
  • An independent governance-expert committee was convened to propose a framework for engaging with the private sector, outline guidelines for publishing DivSeek documents, clarify the governance structure of DivSeek and describe lines of communication and governance principles that will allow it to remain flexible and evolve in the future.

I take this moment to reflect on the mission of the DivSeek initiative, which is to help unlock the potential of crop diversity so it can be utilized to enhance the productivity, sustainability and resilience of crops and agricultural systems throughout the world. The mission is multi-faceted, and we count on the input and support of DivSeek's partners to help us move forward.

Susan McCouch